Danilo Gallinari’s career has been a mix of ups and downs. Is there any hope for him to come close to living up to the last two years of his contract?
At first glance, it’s tempting to look at Danilo Gallinari’s career and say that it has met expectations, if not superseded them.
Drafted sixth overall, following two eventual MVP’s in Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook and another likely Hall of Famer in Kevin Love, Gallinari has averaged the sixth most points per game from the Class of 2008. He’s one of three players (along with Westbrook and Love) to average at least 15 points, four rebounds and two dimes per game, and his career 58.1 true shooting percentage is higher than the five with a higher scoring average than him.
Perhaps most importantly, he’s always helped his teams when he’s been on the court. Using Cleaning the Glass’s “Expected Wins” stat which measures how much a player’s performance would have altered his team’s win total over an 82-game season, Danilo has been a serious positive in every season save the one he was traded to Denver. Three times with the Nuggets, Gallinari’s play equated to at least 15 wins over a full year.
Still, for someone who his former head coach – a man who had a front row seat for the nightly fireworks show that was in-his-prime Steve Nash – once proclaimed the best shooter he’d ever seen, Gallinari’s career 41.9 field goal percentage, including 36.7 percent from downtown, feels like a bit of a disappointment.
When Mike D’Antoni said those words, he was pumping up Gallinari for a redo of a rookie season that saw him appear in only 28 games thanks to a bad back. It would be the theme that would come to define his career more than any other – a career that has thus far allowed him to play in just 481 of 804 regular season games, including a mere 21 last year.
Last year was also the first time that his team scored less points with him on the floor than when he was off. In his first year as a Clipper, Gallinari hit just 32.4 percent of his threes and under 40 percent from the field for the first time in his career. The Rooster will be 30 in a few weeks and is now almost exclusively a four, which severely hampers his value if he isn’t making shots as he’s never been a great rebounder and offers virtually no rim protection.
All of this begs the obvious question: what, if anything, are the Los Angeles Clippers going to get over the final two years of a contract that will pay Gallo $44 million? Or perhaps it would be more useful to ask if there’s anything he could do that would make it palatable for another team to take on said $44 million before (or during) next July without LA giving up too juicy of an asset to unload him?
The easy answer here is “don’t bet on it.” Gallinari’s contract raised eyebrows the moment it was signed, and in light of the nuclear winter we just experienced and with so many good players entering the free agent waters next summer, there’s almost no scenario where a team would envision Gallinari’s services as the best use of their money.
The Clippers are out one first round pick to Boston as it is (although it will convert to two seconds after 2020 if LA is in the lottery the next two seasons, something they certainly don’t plan on), so it’s fair to ask why Los Angeles would deal another one away just to unload a salary that will expire in less than two years.
The answer is quite simple: if they can dump the final year of Gallinari’s deal, trade Lou Williams (which shouldn’t be hard given his under-market deal of $8 million per) and waive Avery Bradley, whose salary is guaranteed for just $2 million in 2019-20, the only guaranteed salaries on LA’s books would be that of the two rookies they just drafted, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jerome Robinson. With lots of noise already about as many as three superstars wanting to team up, having the most cap space in the league in the most desirable destination in the NBA could be of some value.
So this year is really all about Gallinari maximizing whatever value he has left so if and when the time comes to move him, the cost won’t be exorbitant.
For starters, head coach Doc Rivers would do well to help Gallo get back to the place he’s been deadliest throughout his career: the free throw line. Gallinari shot 93.1 percent from the charity stripe last year, which would have been first in the league had he played enough games to qualify. The issue is that he didn’t get there nearly enough, only garnering 4.7 attempts per 36 minutes. That number was 8.5 just two years ago, good enough for fifth in the league, so we know it’s possible.
Rivers should also be able to rely on Gallinari’s defense. With the Italian on the floor last year, LA gave up a very respectable 105 points per 100 possessions, and their defense was 5.9 points per 100 possessions better when he was in. This is in part because Gallo almost never fouls, sporting a foul rate of 2.0 or less for the third year in a row, which is among the best in the league for forwards.
Really though, it comes down to making shots. The reason the Clippers thought it wise to hand Gallinari all that money in the first place was because he had just come off a season in which he had a 62.2 true shooting percentage. That was ninth among the 116 players with a usage rate of at least 20 (minimum 50 games played). If there was one aspect of Gallinari’s game that you figured would age well, it was his ability to knock down shots.
So was last season’s drop down to an unsightly 54.5 TS% an anomaly or the new normal for a post-30 Gallo? There’s arguments for both. On one hand, Gallinari’s scorching 2016-17 seems like more the outlier, as it represented easily his best shooting season since his rookie year. On the other hand, it’s possible that his down year was really just the result of playing out of position early on in the season.
During Gallo’s first 11 games last year, when he was the nominal small forward alongside Blake Griffin, he shot a putrid 34.5 percent from the field, including 25.8 percent from downtown. In the seven games immediately following Griffin’s departure, those numbers shot up to 49.0 and 40.9 percent, respectively.
Next season, Gallinari should have the benefit of being the full time four alongside Tobias Harris, who should help open up the offense with some decent shooting of his own. Gallo’s never been much of a post up player, and being able to maneuver against bigger, slower defenders should continue to have its benefits.
The Clippers had better hope a change of position helps, because otherwise teams will demand an arm and a leg to help LA go star chasing. The first step will be staying healthy. If he can do at least that, there’s a better than decent chance that Gallinari’s best days aren’t behind him after all.